Saturday, June 27, 2009


190 asylum-seekers headed for Australia

Boat being tracked by border protection

"Government failing to deter boat arrivals"

Ben Packham, Daily Telegraph, 27.6.09

THE biggest boatload of asylum-seekers since the Tampa crisis is heading towards Australia.

The vessel, believed to be carrying up to 190 people, is being tracked by border protection authorities. It recently passed between the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra and is believed to be southeast of Bali, the Herald Sun reports.Authorities are waiting to see if it heads east towards Darwin or southwest towards Ashmore Reef.

The boat is one of several being monitored by Border Protection Command, which tracks suspect vessels as soon as they leave port. If the numbers aboard are as high as authorities believe, the vessel could mark a turning point in the tactics of people smugglers.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor's office declined to comment, saying it did not discuss operational matters.

Most boats in recent times have carried about 20 unauthorised arrivals. But there are bigger profits to be made by smugglers who are willing to load more people aboard old fishing boats and ferries.

The Norwegian freighter MV Tampa rescued 433 asylum seekers from a leaky boat in 2001, prompting the Howard Government's so-called "Pacific Solution". The policy was dismantled by the Rudd Government, which axed mandatory detention and closed processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island. It has also stopped billing immigration detainees for the cost of their stay.

The number of unauthorised boats heading to Australia has been steadily climbing, with 15 arriving already this year. The latest came this week, carrying 49 asylum seekers and four crew.

The asylum seeker surge will test refugee processing facilities on Christmas Island, which are reportedly close to capacity.

Opposition immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone said the Government was failing to deter boat arrivals. "It's on for young and old again," she said. "The people smugglers clearly have a well established pipeline to Australia and they are using the Rudd Government's soft policies to recruit more clients."


Mabo native title laws inspire Bedouin claims

Joel Gibson, smh

June 27, 2009

AUSTRALIA'S native title laws are providing inspiration for indigenous claims in one of the most contested places on earth.

Israel's Bedouin people are preparing a landmark test case on behalf of a traditional landowner and have engaged an Australian expert on native title compensation to advise how the success of the late Eddie Mabo can be replicated in the Negev Desert.

John Sheehan, an adjunct professor at the University of Technology, Sydney, and former president of the NSW division of the Australian Property Institute, travelled to Israel this month to assist in the formulation of the claim, which will be the first of its kind in Israel.

He said the plight of the Bedouins, a semi-nomadic people who have travelled the desert regions of southern Israel since before Ottoman and British rule, was "virtually identical" to that of indigenous people before the High Court's historic Mabo decision found native title persisted in Australia.

Like failed claims in Australia before Mabo, previous Bedouin claims have challenged the sovereignty of the Israeli state and failed to get off the ground, he said. "Eddie Mabo was a smart man who realised that you have to put the rights in a manner that could be translated into British common law notions of property. Otherwise it's too easy for them to be knocked over."

With some input based on the Australian experience, Professor Sheehan said he hopes to see "the settlement of the first land claim of a Bedouin indigene in Israel".

Bedouin officials are still deciding upon their ideal test claimant, but the man most likely is a Bedouin named Muri, the son of a sheikh whose family has lived in the same area of the Negev for centuries.

While the Bedouin are a nomadic people, Muri's father's status meant he lived in a stone house, making his claim more palatable to a legal system based on the British common law of property.
Muri is one of tens of thousands of Bedouin inhabitants of unrecognised villages without connection to the water and sewerage systems and threatened with demolition because they are not among the seven villages recognised by the Israeli Government.

Their unrecognised status means are not counted in the census, and cannot vote in local government elections.

The dispossession of Israel's Bedouin tribes has been largely swept aside in the debates about Jewish settlements.

The Bedouin lawyer Morad Elsana, who is involved in the land claim on behalf of the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said the problem of the Bedouin was that they were "invisible".

The Israeli Government created a commission headed by Judge Eliezer Goldberg to investigate the issue in late 2007. It recommended last year that most of the villages be recognised and a committee be established to settle land claims.

Groups such as Habitat International have called for reparations, a moratorium on all demolitions and a new framework for settling land claims.

Meanwhile, lawyers and Bedouin officials behind the test claim hope it could one day be used as a pilot for solving the more vexed issue of Palestinian land rights.


Margot Saville writes in Crikey 26.6.09:

It was a stellar panel of Grumpy Old Sheilas at Glebe’s Toxteth Hotel last night, with a full complement of curmudgeons, including Wendy Bacon, Elizabeth Farrelly and Meredith

Burgmann lining up to talk about what gets their goat.

The hardest part of the talk -- which raised money for Tranby Aboriginal College -- was deciding the order of speakers, as MC Kate Barton had decreed that they would talk in order of age, from oldest to youngest.

The first speaker, molecular biologist Marion Manton, said she thought one of the worst parts of aging was “sagging jowls and disappearing eyelashes, I used to be able to bat my eyelashes and now I can’t find them.”

She also said that as a member of the infamous Sydney “Push”, she was naturally an atheist “but I don’t want to go into an atheist retirement home, I don’t think atheists would be able to manage them properly.”

Meredith Burgmann had the longest list of “grumps”, saying that the last time she had spoken on this topic, “I attacked Buddhists, large white square plates, bromeliads and something else which I’ve forgotten because I am a senior.”

This time, however, she was grumpy about Buddhists (still), Chaser-haters proteas and Pilates.

"And of course, young people." Burgmann, Former President of the NSW Upper House, said that at a recent demo she had told a young journalist that she wanted to get the CMFEU to institute a green ban on a proposed development. "And he said, ‘what’s a green ban?’ That’s why the young can never be trusted."

Buddhism is irritating because it is the only acceptable religion for the inner-city leftist intelligentsia, she said. “Why is Buddhism acceptable when other wacky religions are not?” And as for Pilates: “If another middle-aged woman tells me to do Pilates I will strangle them, except I won’t succeed because of their very strong neck muscles."

Journalist and academic Wendy Bacon said that she was also an atheist, but was returning to her Presbyterian roots because she was angrier about lies than she used to be, and had a feeling that people in public life were lying more easily. "Weapons of Mass Destruction was an astounding lie and we have never made anyone pay for that."

Wendy also weighed into the infamous SWF/UTS imbroglio. In a nutshell, last year the UTS Journalism students, under the steely eye of Bacon, their journalism professor, were asked to write a daily newspaper for the Sydney Writers’ Festival. The problem was a cultural one -- the students thought that they were Woodward and Bernstein and the SWF thought the paper was part of its marketing arm. The inevitable stand-off occurred, culminating in a huge fight between the festival and the university which ended in a flurry of legal letters.

Personally, I would not take on a woman who had paraded in a nun’s habit bearing the slogan "I have been f-cked by God’s steel prick", but UTS saw it differently, and Bacon is still fuming.
"I’m very grumpy about the SWF. Last year the students from UTS wrote the SWF newspaper and it did not do the PR that SWF expected. This year they banned the newspaper, and I’m very grumpy with UTS because they said it did not happen when about 300 people knew that it did."

Bacon was also grumpy about the fact that she didn’t seem to be able to get a grip on time. She said she remembered living in Glebe in about 1980 and Malcolm Turnbull and (now Justice) Virginia Bell were there, "and we would spend hours and hours playing poker". There was a pause and we leaned in expectantly -- did Malcolm slip in a home-made Ace of Spades, was he fond of Virginia's cat? Sadly, this was a precursor to some Proustian points about the experience of time; not a lead-in to a juicy anecdote about young Malcolm.

The final speaker was SMH columnist and academic Elizabeth Farrelly, who looked too young to qualify, but did round off the evening with a long list of complaints written in the form of a poem. It included property developers, the NSW state government and Peter Garrett, the "singer without a song" who has been "tied up and brutalised by Penny Wong". She also said she was grumpy about having curly hair.

Just before the end, MC Kate Barton asked Bacon if she had to leave; she said she had time to have "one more for the gutter".

On July 30, it’s the turn of the Grumpy Old Men, featuring Bob Ellis and actors Tony Llewellyn-Jones and John Derum. Grumpy old people unite, you have nothing to lose but your temper ...

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Failed Babcock chalks up $5.4b loss

Ian Verrender, smh

June 24, 2009

BABCOCK & BROWN, the failed financial engineer that was ejected from the Australian Securities Exchange last Friday, is believed to have destroyed $5.4 billion in its final frantic year of operation - the second biggest loss in Australian history.

While accounts for the former boom market darling have been completed, they have yet to be lodged with the Australian Securities and Investment Commission as Deloittes, receivers to the group, continues to trawl through the wreckage.

The listed company enjoyed a meteoric rise from its $5 listing in 2005, soaring to a peak of $34 a share at the height of the boom before flaming out last year, burdened by $3.9 billion of debt and collapsing equity markets.

Babcock and Brown's $5.4b loss

Babcock and Brown's shareholders are fuming after it recorded one of the biggest loses ever for an Australian company.

Babcock was placed in receivership in March this year after noteholders, mostly based in New Zealand and owed about $600 million, voted to put the company under.

But the action proved to be futile, as the listed company was merely a shell, with all the operating businesses held by a subsidiary, Babcock & Brown International, where the banks hold sway.

Although the company is supposed to be in wind-down mode, its asset sales program is proving to be difficult, given the complexity of many of the operations and the dearth of buyers.

The banks have installed McGrathNicol as unofficial receivers to the subsidiary but they appear unwilling to formally bury it and crystallise further bad debts.

Insiders, meanwhile, talk of continued excess.

The beleaguered subsidiary is reportedly burning through as much as $1 million a day internationally on rent, wages and consultants fees.

Still based in Chifley Tower, one of Sydney's most expensive corporate addresses, it now occupies just three floors of the 11 it leases, the remaining eight empty and its corporate parking area a lonely cavern.

The company retains offices in New York, Connecticut, San Francisco, London, Milan and Munich, many of which are also under-utilised.

While shareholders and the subordinated debt investors - the noteholders who put the parent under - are likely to lose everything, some of the former founders appear to have escaped relatively unscathed.

Chief executive Phil Green, who predicted last year the company would make a $750 million profit even as its shares were nosediving, left for Tuscany a fortnight ago before heading off to watch the tennis at Wimbledon and the cricket at Lords.

At least Mr Green held on to his shares to almost the end, selling most for just 90c apiece.

Other partners such as chairman Jim Babcock progressively sold down their holdings at $20, $25.20 and the last tranche at $12.80. Mr Babcock is reported to be building a large house in San Francisco, reputedly worth $US15 million.

The original partners held 40 per cent of the company when it listed. By the time of the collapse, the offshore partners held just 0.2 per cent.

Excluding the US-listed News Corp, only the AMP has recorded a bigger loss with its $5.5 billion plunge into the red in 2003.

Monday, June 15, 2009


Mother feels sorry for nurse

Harriet Alexander Court Reporter

June 13, 2009, smh

HOSPITALS should be forced to ensure they have adequate supplies of blood for every woman about to give birth by caesarean, a NSW coroner has recommended.

Rebecca Murray died from multiple-organ failure after delivering a healthy baby girl by emergency caesarean at Bathurst Base Hospital in June 2007.

She suffered a severe postpartum hemorrhage, a medical event that is generally treatable, but the recovery nurse was not trained to monitor its aftermath and the hospital wasted valuable time checking her blood type before a transfusion could be administered.

Some of the blood had then to be brought from Orange Base Hospital.

The Deputy State Coroner, Carl Milovanovich, who conducted an inquest into Ms Murray's death, yesterday found that it could have been prevented if her blood count and type had been checked before the operation and the staff were better trained.

He recommended the Health Minister implement a policy that requires all hospitals to check the blood count, group and supplies for all elective and emergency caesareans.

Bathurst hospital has responded to Mrs Murray's death by creating such a policy, but Mr Milovanovich said it was clear many regional hospitals had not followed suit.

"If the unexpected and avoidable death of a young mother at Bathurst justifies a change in policy at Bathurst Base Hospital, why should that policy not extend statewide?" he said.

"Do we have to wait for another mother to die in similar circumstances before there is some change?"

Mr Milovanovich also criticised hospital administrators for not ensuring their staff were appropriately skilled.

Doctors did not verbally advise the recovery nurse that Ms Murray's wound had torn after her caesarean and that she had suffered a severe postpartum hemorrhage, and the nurse did not read the operation report.

When Mrs Murray started showing symptoms that should have alarmed the nurse, she was inadequately trained to recognise the gravity of the situation.

It was only when a more experienced nurse "popped in" to check on Ms Murray that emergency action was taken.

"The responsibility of ensuring appropriately skilled staff are available to deal with patient care must … rest squarely on the shoulders of hospital administrators," Mr Milovanovich said.

Mrs Murray's husband, Jim, said outside Westmead Coroner's Court that he did not blame the individual nurse, but wanted to see systemic changes.

"I'm angry that they did that to the nurse, put her in a position where she didn't know what she was doing," he said.

Mr Murray remembered telling his wife he loved her in her last lucid moments and was pleased that she got to meet their youngest child before dying. "She touched her cheek, and that was it," he said.

"At least she got to touch her."

The Health Minister, John Della Bosca, offered his sympathy to Mrs Murray's family and said he would consider the recommendations.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


How Scrymgour and homelands might undo NT Labor

Bob Gosford writes from Yuendumu, in Crikey 2.6.09

Marion Scrymgour was Australia’s most powerful elected black politician -- that is until illness got the better of her and forced her resignation from her several Ministries back in February this year and that mantle was handed to her arch-political rival and enemy -- Labor member of Macdonnell, Alison Anderson.

Since then Scrymgour has undergone treatment in Adelaide. The accepted wisdom was that she would sit quietly on the backbenches until August this year when her parliamentary pension matured and would then retire.

But it seems that sometime during her treatment and recovery that she has had a Damascene conversion that recent NT government policies on blackfellas have been built on lies and deception.

As the ABC News website reports, "I feel strongly because we have lied to Aboriginal people," she said. "We have said we would go back and talk to them before we made that policy."

"That policy" is the recently announced "Working Futures" policy that will withdraw essential services from the many small homeland communities across the NT and force residents to move or travel to larger "hub" communities to receive those services.

And it seems that Scrymgour has also changed her mind about her own rushed and fundamentally flawed policy that would gut the remnants of the once proud bilingual education system in the NT, a policy that Scrymgour saw fit to vigorously defend here at Crikey from the views of a "cabal of self-important whitefellas".

Working Future dates back to the decision in September 2007 by former Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough to hand responsibility for homeland policy and funding to the NT Government.

Scrymgour was responsible for developing the NT government policy on homelands and remote community development and commissioned a discussion paper and a team, led by Pat Dodson, to take submissions and conduct community consultation.

Dodson’s "Community Engagement Report" was given to the NT government in January and was publicly released late last month.

Following Scrymgour’s sudden resignation in February, Alison Anderson inherited the Indigenous Affairs Ministry.

On 20 May Anderson released a policy, a ghost-written op-ed piece in her favourite paper, The Australian and a bare-bones website.

The recommendations in Dodson’s report have been effectively ignored and the promises of a further consultative process with affected Aboriginal people living in remote towns in the NT, following the development of a draft policy, have been abandoned.

If Working Future is ever implemented, as Lindsay Murdoch reported in The Age it will mean that:

Thousands of Aborigines living on their remote Northern Territory homelands will be forced to move to larger communities to receive key government services in a radical shake-up of indigenous policy. The NT Government is set to announce that 20 communities will be developed into regional economic hubs with a wide range of government services such as housing, schools and clinics.

But about 580 smaller communities will be deprived of many government services, threatening the fruits of what became known in the 1970s as the homelands movement when thousands of Aboriginal people moved back to their ancestral lands.

Scrymgour’s electorate of Arafura contains a large number of homeland communities -- small hamlets deep in the heart of traditional Aboriginal lands occupied by family and clan groups that have chosen to live a simpler, safer and healthier life away from the babylonian chaos that typifies many of the larger Aboriginal townships scattered across the NT.

Now, as Murray McLaughlin reported on The 7.30 Report last night:

Marion Scrymgour has thrown the Territory Labor government into crisis over her complaint that the outstations policy was announced prematurely ignoring the process that she had laid out when she was Indigenous Affairs Minister. Marion Scrymgour has told Chief Minister Paul Henderson that she’s prepared to go to the cross-benches over the issue.

Scrymgour: I’m not discounting anything but I’m saying very clearly that I will do everything in my power as a member of the government to make sure that government meets its responsibilities to Aboriginal people.

As Crikey noted back in February:

There is a long history of mutual antipathy between Scrymgour and Anderson, including a stoush in late 2007 that followed Scrymgour’s description of the Howard/Brough NT Intervention as a ‘black Tampa’ motivated by naked political opportunism.

And, as Henderson well knows, it is Anderson and Scrymgour who may well hold the fate of his "crumbling", one-seat majority government in their hands.

Anderson, who, as evidenced by her vocal support for the Brough/Howard Intervention and outspokenness on matters sensitive to government, is widely regarded as a loose cannon perhaps more closely aligned to the CLP Opposition than to the centre and left of NT Labor.

While she may be happy with her Ministerial appointments for now, there is the very real threat that she could jump ship, either as an independent or to surface as a member of the CLP, and force a change of government.

Crikey understands that Scrymgour warned Henderson of her concerns with Anderson’s policy soon after it emerged but that he chose to ignore her.

Since Henderson’s Labor government was re-elected with a single seat majority in August of last year an informal book has been running on just how long his government will last -- the best money was that he might be lucky, very lucky, to make it to August -- when a number of Labor members are eligible for their generous super payouts.

But this latest fight changes the odds substantially -- Crikey reckons you’d be lucky to get much better than evens on Henderson’s government surviving the month.

Henderson’s failures are all his own doing, led by a poor set of polices that attack his electoral heartland and a supine surrender to the Federal government’s directions -- but he hasn’t been helped by the loose cannons rolling around the deck of what passes for the sinking ship of state in the NT.

Read more at Bob Gosford's The Northern Myth at Crikey blogs.